A Brother's Love

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Date: Mar 06, 2001
Source: Teen People April 2001 Issue
Submitted By: Jerilee

Two and a half years after losing his sister Caroline to lupus, Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough opens up to Teen People about the experience and his family's ongoing efforts to give back in her name.

By Howie Dorough as told to Chris Gardner.

I'll never forget the last time I saw my sister Caroline before she made her final trip to the hospotal. It was August 1998, and we were making our last stop on the Backstreet's Back tour in Raleigh N.C. Caroline lived in the southeast part of the state, in a town called Havelock, so she came to the show. My parents and other siblings live in Florida, so I usually only got to see Caroline on holidays. She knew more about what I was up to by watching TV and listening to me on the radio, so when I cam to town it was living proof that her baby brother was a Backstreet Boy. We were close when I was growing up, and I knew how much it meant to her to be at the concert, so I set up a privare meet-and-greet at the hotel for Caroline, her daughet, Elizabeth (who's now 16), and their friends. Less than two weeks later, on September 12, Caroline died at age 37 after a 13-year battle with lupus.

Caroline was diagnosed in 1985 at age 24. She had this chronic cough--it was unbelievable! After she underwent tests, the diagnosis came back: She had lupus. She kept it to herself for a while because she thought she could overcome it.

Along with the cough, Caroline had a lot of pain in her joints. The effects of lupus vary from person to person, which makes it difficult to research and diagnose. It's brought on by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and it results in an overactive immune system in which abnormal antibodies are directed against the body's own cells and tissues. More than 1 million people in the United States had lupus. Many live normal life spans, but the chances of survival decrease when a major organ is affected, which is what happened to Caroline.

Her health really began to decline in 1990, after her son, J.D., was born four months premature with cerebral palsy. She was still active, but at the end of the day she would be totally exhausted.

About a week after the concert in Raleigh, I was in L.A. with the rest of the Backstreet Boys for the MTV Video Music Awards. We won Best Group Video for "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)." It was our first MTV win in America, and that night was so joyous. After the ceremony, I saw my brother Johnny, backstage--he was talking to my dad on the phone, letting him knoe that we had won. I could tell something was wrong, but they didn't want me to worry. I finally got Johnny to tell me that Caroline was in the hospital. He told me not to worry and to enjoy the night.

Two days later, Johnny called me at 5 a.m. to say that Caroline had taken a turn for the worse and that I should come to North Caroline immediately. Once I arrived, my brother picked me up at the airport and said it was a false alatm and Caroline was going much better. I was relieved. We got to the hospital around 6p.m., and my parents and sisters, Pollyanna and Angie, were there. They said Caroline was laughing and being her normal self.

An hour later, the doctors cam out of the Intensive Care Unit and said, "We're hacing some majore complications and don't know if we are going to be able to hold on to her." We were like, "No, this can't be true!" It happened so fast. We went back into the ICU, and we could see them trying to resuscitate her. She kept blacking out because she was coughing so hard and no oxygen was getting to her lungs and heart.

I remember very clearly how they were hitting her chest. We were all like, "Come on, Caroline, come on, you can do this!" I felt so bad. They were beating her chest and shocking her, trying to resuscitate her. She was going through so much torture. Finally, they weren't getting any response. It was unbelievable. She was gone.


I had never seen my mom cry so hard. I stood at the foor of Caroline's bed, holding her. I was so worried about her because she was hurting so badly. I never got to talk to Caroline that day at the hospital, but I feel she wanted me to have the memoried of the good time we had at the concert in Raleigh and not to see her suffering.

Caroline's husband Jerry, didn't even know that she had passed away. He was in Colorado on a hunting trip, and he was so deep in the woods that his cellphone didn't work. A search party was sent out. THey told him to call home, and that's how he found out. He went hunting all the time, but I think he regrets going on that trip and not being home when she passed away. When he made it to North Carolina the next day, he took my niece and nephew, Elizabeth and J.D., into a room to talk to them about what had happened. They were both having a hard time understanding their mom's death.

The next day was the funeral. I didn't cry until the end. I couldn't believe that I wasn't pouring down tears the whole time. I think I was still in shock. Three hours after the funeral, I flew to Buenos Aired for a Backstreet Boys concert. I didn't want to go, but my family encouraged mt to go on.

I got on that plane and cried half the way there. I didn't have time to take it all in. I didn't have time to breathe. I felt like I was on a roller coaster. WHen I got to Buenos Aired and met Kevin, Brian, Nick and A.J., they all hugged me and told me how sorry they were. Kevin and Brian had just lost their grandfather, and Kevin lost his father, so they knew what it means to lose someone close to you.

We did three shows in South America. I remember gettin up onstage at the first concert and my heart skipping a beat. That's when everything that had happened really hit me. I realized that nothing is bigger than life. In my career, I was on cloud nine, thinking nothing could go wrong. It's almost like we were on a train that wasn't stopping because there was no time. I figured that we have to slow down every once in a while because we have lived, we have families and we have our own health to think of.

In a way, I'm still in denial about my sister's death. Part of me thinks she's still living in North Carolina and I might see her again at the next family gathering. At times, I feel like it hasn't sunk in yet that she's gone.

My fans have made it easier by showing so much love. They've sent sympathy cards and asked how they could make donations for lupus research. So my family decided to set up the Dorough Lupus Foundation. Las June we held our first fund-raiser, a concert in Orlando. Deborah Gibson, A.J. McLean and myslef were among the performers, while Mariah Carey, Gloria Estefan and Shania Twain all donated items for a silent auction.

We raise more than $100,000.00 and followed up with benefit concerts in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Buenos Aired. I hope our foundation can help raise awareness of the disease as well as money to assist families who can't afford treatment.


If I can help to get the word out, it will be a great accomplishment. I've even meet a lot of celebrities who have this disease, but it's kind of hush-hush. I just want people to know that they don't have to be scared. A lot of the fans also have come up to me and said, "My sister has this disease," or "My mom has it," and they just want somebody to talk to.

We hope to hold an annual fund-raising even in Orlando (This year's is June 1 through 3.) We're also talking about taking it to other cities. I want to make it as big as Elton John AIDA Foundation. I already do a lot of charity work with Backstreet Boys. Being part of so many events, you realize how much money can be raised and how many lives can be changed. Having celebrity status and having been blessed with a God-given talent abd being able to use that now for Caroline and my family is amazing. And I will continue to do whatever I can to support this special cause.

FOR MORE INFORMATION on the Dorough family's charity, write to Dorough Lupus Foundation, 4610 Limpscomb Street NE, Suite #2, Palm Bay, FL 32905. Call 321-725-8599, or fax 321-725-9225

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